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Farewell to Ivan the Gorilla

ivan-gorilla-082212Ivan, known in this country for most of his life as “the Shopping Mall Gorilla,” died this week at Zoo Atlanta. He was 50 years old.

Ivan, a western lowland gorilla, was born in the wild around 1962 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While still a baby, he was captured by wildlife traders, who would most likely have had to kill his mother in order to reach him.

In 1964, they sold him to the owners of a department store in Lakewood, Wash., where, for the next 30 years, he was known as the “Shopping Mall Gorilla.” Ivan had thousands of fans and visitors, few of whom gave much consideration to how they were contributing to the miserable life he led.

Eventually, though, animal protection groups worked with zoological organizations to bring pressure on Ivan’s “owners”, who agreed in 1994 to give him to the Woodland Park Zoo. Later that year, he was transferred as a “permanent loan” to Zoo Atlanta.

The following year, Zoo Atlanta placed Ivan in their new exhibit, the Ford African Tropical Forest Exhibit, which mimics the landscape of a natural habitat. It was the first time he’d lived out of doors – out of a cage – since his kidnapping.

Ivan lived at Zoo Atlanta for the rest of his life. It was certainly a better life than at a department store. But it was never the life he was born to live – nor could it ever be.

“This is a tremendous loss to the Zoo Atlanta family,” Raymond King, the zoo’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we’d only say that the zoo was not his family; nor could it ever be. The real “tremendous loss” had taken place 50 years earlier when Ivan was snatched from his true family by the thieves and murderers who knew they’d get good money for him from people who were part of the captivity industry in the United States.